Lincoln Bible (Fisk University)

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Wednesday, September 7, 1864. Washington, DC.

At 2:00 p.m., a group of "the loyal colored men of Baltimore, [Maryland]" meet in Lincoln's office, where they present "him with a . . . bible . . . as a token of respect and gratitude." A newspaper reports, "The book is . . . bound in royal purple velvet, inclosed in a black walnut case, 16 by 14 inches. On one side," an etching portrays "the President in the act of striking the shackles from the slaves." Lincoln remarks, "I can only say now . . . it has always been a sentiment with me that all mankind should be free." Daily National Republican (Washington, DC), 7 September 1864, 2d ed., 2:4; Evening Star (Washington, DC), 7 September 1864, 2:4; Sun (Baltimore, MD), 8 September 1864, 1:5; New York Daily Tribune, 8 September 1864, 1:5; Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible, 7 September 1864, CW, 7:542-43.

(From the Lincoln Log)

The delegation consisted of R. Stockett Mathews, 3rd Congressional District of Maryland, Reverend Bishop Wayman, Reverend Samuel W. Chase, Reverend W. H. Brown, W. W. Francis, and A. G. Carroll. See the Baltimore Sun for September 8, 1864.




Lincoln bible fisk.jpg


The “Other Lincoln Bible,” Fisk University, Franklin Library

by Robert Schoeberlein (first published on the Baltimore City Archives Blog)



President Barack Obama at his inaugurations in 2009 and 2013 used a Bible once owned by the Lincoln Family. Known today as the “Lincoln Bible,” it resides currently at the Library of Congress. Do you know, however, about the “Other Lincoln Bible” at Fisk University and its Baltimore connection?

On September 7, 1864, a delegation of African American Baltimoreans paid a visit to the White House. The purpose was to express their gratitude, on behalf of city’s black community, to President Lincoln for his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which they termed “the most sublime State Paper of Modern Civilization.” They also wished to thank him for allowing African American men to shoulder arms in defense of the Union.

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.[1] Baltimore’s African American citizens soon organized a fund raising campaign to place a tangible token of their appreciation into the hands of the Chief Executive. Unfortunately, we don’t know the names of the committee members or their decision making when it came to the selection of the gift.[2]

The committee decided that a Bible would be the most appropriate gift for President Lincoln. Yet, this was to be no ordinary Bible. Only the finest would do. Here is a period description of the item:

The book in size is imperial quarto [about 11” x 15”], bound in royal purple velvet. On the upper side of the cover is a solid 18 carat gold plate, nine and a half inches in circumference, bearing a design representing the President in the act of removing the shackles from a slave. On the lower side of the cover is a solid 18 carat gold plate, four inches long and two inches wide, bearing the following inscription:

‘To ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, from the loyal colored people of Baltimore, as a token of respect and gratitude….’

Accompanying the Bible is a solid black walnut case with a silver plate on the lid, on which is engraved a picture of the Capitol and the words ‘Holy Bible.’ [3]

Over five hundred individuals, more women than men, donated various amounts for a total of $580 ($580 in 1864 is the equivalent of $8522 in 2013). The elaborate binding and the engraved gold plate may have been fabricated locally. The work involved to produce the Bible, according to a scholar of Baltimore’s nineteenth century book trade, was within the capacity of a larger city firm such as Lucas Brothers.

In 1916, Robert Todd Lincoln donated the Bible to Fisk University. Today it resides with the Special Collections Department at the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library.

[1] We simply do not know what the reactions of Baltimore’s citizens were to this momentous news. While some Baltimore newspapers recorded the jubilations of the “contrabands” in Washington, none featured any similar celebratory events within the Monumental City. Even the Baltimore Clipper, one of the staunchest Union sympathizing local papers, merely printed the text of the Proclamation and made no editorial comments.

[2] The Lyceum Observer, an African American owned and operated Baltimore newspaper printed from 1863 to 1866, might have provided those insights. Tragically, only a single issue has survived the ages.

[3] The New York Times, September 11, 1864.